and entering

Something Something First-Generation Students Are Welcome or Whatever

"Sure, we can find a place for first-generation students. How about this classroom? It's a good enough place, I guess."

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

I write today during a time of great stress for some of you. As you return to campus and many of your fellow students are securing summer internships, others are having a hard time adjusting to life at the College. Don't snicker; it's true! It has come to my attention that students whose parents never went to college—commonly known as "first-generation students"—also go to Harvard, and that the College might not seem as welcoming to them as it does to students from privileged backgrounds. So if you let me address this now, we won't have to hear about it for a while. Here goes nothing.

Let me begin by telling you about myself for the purposes of sounding relatable. I was born in the Big Apple but raised in the humble land of Clark County, Virginia. My father graduated from Princeton and bred thoroughbred horses, and his grandfather was a U.S. Senator. In fact, I'm a descendant of the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, the third president of Princeton and the guy who delivered the "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon. But I'll have you know that I did NOT use my legacy heritage to go to Princeton. No sir, I used it to attend a small liberal arts college and then the University of Pennsylvania. Anyway, the point is that I can relate to the struggle of being a first-generation student at an Ivy League university. Let's move on.

First-generation students seem to have a lot of complaints. And, of course, I relate to them. Some say that the "ivory tower" environment of academia is foreign to students who attended underfunded public schools, or even just regularly-funded public schools. Some say that the College does little to reach out to first-generation students to make sure they are doing okay, and that it does not pair them with upperclassman mentors. Some say that Harvard has for too long served as a stopping point on the path through which the elite funnel their overprivileged children. And some even suggest that legacy admissions be abolished. Do I agree with all of these complaints? Yeah, fine. 

I'm told that Harvard is a welcoming place, staffed by welcoming people, and attended by welcoming students. Now, I'm pretty sure there are a whole bunch of support groups these first-generation kids can join. And I bet there is some kind of program that makes them feel welcome. If not, we will throw money at something until everyone stops talking. Rest assured: Harvard will spare no resource to ensure that first-generation students feel included in the Harvard community, or something. I guess.

The great Rev. Jonathan Edwards—who is, by the way, a distant ancestor of mine—once said, "God may cast wicked men into hell at any given moment." And you know what? It just occurred to me that we give you first-generation brats a lot of money, so maybe you should show some gratitude before I cast you out onto the streets of Cambridge at any given moment. Please, have the decency to at least say "Thank you" the next time you see me walk briskly from my Massachusetts Hall office to my black Chevy Suburban. Some of you are going to college for free. FREE. So just shut up and deal with it.

We have much work to do to make certain that Harvard belongs to every one of us. So, sure, that can include first-generation students too. Whatever. Fine.


Drew Faust



Image source: Harvard University/Wikimedia

© 2016